Columns

Kenyon GS: Election Day’s true winners

By
Opinions Columnist
Thursday, November 13, 2014

While the Republican Party declared a blow-out victory on election night, a particular enclave within the party watched as its political allowance quickly accumulated: Southern Republicans. This election cycle stood as a win for the Republicans to hold the congressional megaphone once again, providing the party an opportunity to illustrate its contrast with the Democrats.

Starting in January, governors-, senators- and representatives-elect will all swear their oath and step into office. A new era of the “Solid South,” traditionally referring to early-20th century Southern political uniformity, will commence. This era holds at stake not only the 114th Congress, but both the Democratic and Republican party platforms — as well as the 2016 presidential election, thereby setting the political tone for potentially the next eight years and beyond.

Governors’ mansions from Atlanta to Austin will become or remain home to Republicans. Incumbent Democratic senators such as North Carolina’s Kay Hagan — and surely enough Louisiana’s Mary Landrieu — will surrender their desks to make way for newly elected Republicans, thereby contributing to the shift in the Senate leadership in Washington. And states such as Arkansas will see congressional representation in the lower house exclusively through one looking glass: the Republican Party’s.

Back in Washington, Senate Majority Leader-in-waiting Mitch McConnell of Kentucky will preside over a new Congress, as well as a slew of new committee chair appointments — where the true bounty of Southern Republican sway and influence become clear. As Senate committee assignments emerge following the commencement of the new Congress, the Associated Press has quickly pointed out that Southern senators “figure prominently among would-be major committee chairmen” on committees such as Appropriations, Budget, Foreign Relations, Intelligence, and Health, Education, Labor and Pensions, among others.

With Congress entirely in Republicans’ hands, between McConnell and House Speaker John Boehner, Republican lawmakers can begin to lay the framework for a Republican Party that will come to a referendum once again in 2016, as voters elect a new commander-in-chief, as well as having another chance to comment on Congress’ performance via ballot box.

This electoral outcome is interesting in that it places a party of pariahs in the political limelight, and the question that remains is simple: What will Republicans do — or not do? In the election fallout, media and political commentary have dubbed the 2014 midterm elections everything ranging from a “referendum on Obama” to simply a “triumph of the wrong,” as the New York Times’ Paul Krugman believes it to be.

Regardless of the headline de jour, the fact remains that the American people have placed immense congressional power in the hands of a group of politicians who largely represent regions of the country that stand in opposition to many popular causes, including the implementation of the Affordable Care Act, legalization of gay marriage, preservation of abortion rights, exploration of legalized marijuana, public green energy initiatives and others.

Will the political trifectas — one-party control of a state governorship and both houses of a legislature — within southern capitals quickly affect legislative activity on the national level? Will suffocating abortion regulation from Jackson, Mississippi, or stringent voter identification laws in Austin, Texas, permeate conversation in Washington?

The answer — disturbing for some — is maybe.

The Democratic Party’s greatest weapon in Washington at this moment is President Obama — and his pen. With 26 months left in the Obama presidency, the question for both sides of the aisle is simply, how much longer do we want to preclude progress?

This is the moment where Southern Republicans seize their spot in the limelight. Republicans can place their policies on the president’s desk, and clearly hold the de facto face of the Democratic Party accountable on every bill presented. The Republican Party can illustrate a clear picture of which direction it envisions our country heading in, without the “grim reaper” mentality of current Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, who allowed House-led initiatives to fall dead on arrival in the Senate. Republicans may be right, or they may be wrong. Either way, they will be heard.

As the 2016 election cycle approaches, Republican Party power will revolve around the South, as this is from where power inside the Beltway will hail. Undoubtedly, the next Republican presidential nominee will have to garner a nod of approval from power brokers in the South. Hints of this prediction have begun to surface in the last several months, as the media frequently speculates over potential 2016 Republican contenders from the South. These include former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul, Texas Gov. Rick Perry, Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal ’91.5, and even former 2008 presidential candidate and former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee.

Meanwhile, the new Senate majority-in-waiting in Washington has recently prompted a top-down review within the Democratic Party to analyze potential shortcomings that may have caused last week’s losses. Already some have questioned whether all-but-assumed 2016 presidential candidate Hillary Clinton will endure a smooth road to the White House. The Republican Party, likewise, must now wrestle with maintaining uniformity and appeal, as it enters the 2016 election season. One wonders where Paul will fall in toeing the party’s line, as well.

While not entirely predictable, our political wallflowers — the Southern Republicans — have found their way onto the middle of the dance floor. Like it or not, everyone from Obama to both major political parties to Congress must now jive to their beat. For the president, this is a limbo to a legacy. For the Democratic and Republican parties, this is a dance of differentiation. Congress merely dances to remain relevant.

The story of politics has always been about who owns the moment. Southern Republicans own this moment.

 

 

Ian Kenyon GS is an MPA candidate with the Taubman Center for Public Policy and American Institutions and can be reached at ian_kenyon@brown.edu.